An Isle of Wight couple are taking their son’s school to court over a decision to allow another pupil to attend classes dressed as either a boy or a girl.
Nick and Sally Rowe, who are strong Christians, feel that the actions of the other pupil, who is six, are causing confusion to their own child.
They say that their concerns lie not with the transgender child, but with the school’s decision to allow the young person to swap between genders.
It was when their own sons began to ask whether it was possible for a boy to marry a boy that they became alarmed.
They said that the transgender child, who is biologically a boy, should be ‘helped’ privately, rather than in the public setting of a school.
Nick Rowe, who runs his own plumbing firm, said: ‘We have a social understanding that we have boys and we have girls. There’s a distinct difference between male and female. Not just in what we wear, but in our DNA.’
They went on to claim that they had a concern for the ‘welfare of all children.’
The story hit the headlines following the couple’s broadcast on the BBC radio four news programme, Today. However, the story has gained momentum with extensive articles in the national press and the couple participating in TV interviews.
The Rowes have faced enormous criticism for publicly voicing their concerns. Both Conservative and Labour MPs have joined in the debate. Conservative MP Anna Soubrey tweeted: ‘Not very ”Christian” parents…’
Some commentators have argued that the politician’s interest justifies the argument that the transgender issue growing in schools have become politicised. They argue that political correctness has overtaken the rights of pupils to see their classmates as just boys or girls.
Schools are expected to have policies with regards to transgender pupils. As more young people become open about confusions regarding their gender, so schools must work to support these students, helping them to come to terms with their uncertainty, and protecting them as far as possible from bullying.
However, a recent study indicated that nearly two thirds of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Querying) pupils at schools are bullied. The Stonewall School report also indicated that ten per cent of transgender students have received death threats.
One of the areas in which schools need to consider their response is in the field of school uniform. There is a growing trend in education towards ‘traditional’ values, in part inspired by Michael Gove’s Free School movement, where parents can create their own places of learning which should, to a certain extent, follow the beliefs of the parents.
Such schools frequently operate strict uniform policies and try to uphold firm discipline. Education tends to involve whole class teaching rather than have work centred on the needs of individual children. Many academies, in an attempt to turn around an OFSTED judged failing school have also adopted similar hard-line ideas.
A school in Norfolk, for example, caused consternation and anger among some parents when it tried to impose bed-times on its pupils, and sent a letter to parents laying the blame for poor performance, to some extent, at their door.
Formal uniforms have become more in vogue, some going as far as to instruct that girls should wear skirts while boys must be in trousers.
Other schools hope to avoid controversy by setting broad uniform requirements, but hoping the question of neutral gender clothing will simply not arise.
It is leading to a polarisation of views regarding the best way to educate children, from the liberal child centred approach on the one side, to the ‘it worked in my day’ traditional views on the other.
The Rowe’s legal action will come about, they say, because parents were not consulted when their six year-old son’s classmate was permitted to express gender preferences. They feel that children of this age are too young to be exposed to such matters. They are challenging the school’s decision to rule on the rights of the gender fluid pupil without reference to other parents.
The couple say that they are fond of the school, and were very involved in it, helping with assemblies and supporting events. Their older son was also a pupil there, but left (to be home taught) when he became distressed over another transgender pupil who was in his class.
They sent their younger child to the primary because, until the decision of his own classmate, he was unaffected by the situation.
Nigel and Sally Rowe say that they are Christians who have no prejudices regarding race, sexuality or gender. They say that they believe in freedom to choose, but the problems have arisen because the child is too young to make such a decision about his own gender choices.
These are something, they say, that should be held back until a child becomes, at the earliest, a teen.
A local authority officer put the school’s position as one in which it is required, in law, to recognise the choices of any child regarding their gender. To do otherwise, says the officer, would be to infringe their civil rights.
But the Rowes argue that this is a misinterpretation, and that the law states that people must be eighteen in order to make a specific gender choice. They also feel that the school itself contravened their right to have their views sought and recognised.
They believe that they are being forced to accept a new ‘social construct’ with which, for young children at least, they do not agree.
The issue has brought to the surface a debate in which some have felt unable to engage. Since the removal of Clause 28, Margaret Thatcher’s edict that institutions could not promote homosexuality as an alternative to heterosexual family life, schools have become more inclusive towards LBGTQ people.
It is now common to teach about such choices, and schools are required to operate a zero tolerance towards homophobia.
However, there is much to do to promote full tolerance and equality from all stakeholders. Name calling remains rife in most schools.
Some supporters feel that the Rowes are right to raise their concerns through the courts, as the voices of more conservative parents are no longer being heard.
Others believe that making the matter so public risks setting back the rights of gender fluid people, whatever their age.